Washington: Toyota has repaired most of the 5.6 million cars and trucks it has recalled in the US for flaws that could trigger unwanted acceleration, citing progress in rebuilding its reputation for safety.
The automaker has been working to improve quality controls as it deals with sliding market share following its massive recalls. The world’s largest automaker said in a report Monday that it had aggressively responded to safety problems at the urging of its president, Akio Toyoda, and top company officials.
Toyota has recalled more than 10 million vehicles worldwide over the last year for a wide range of problems, including some that have nothing to do with unwanted acceleration. The company has appointed several quality review panels and given more autonomy to regional operations as it aims to improve quality.
The government has received about 3,000 complaints about sudden acceleration and estimated the problem could be involved in the deaths of 93 people over the last decade.
On Monday, Toyota said it is expanding the role of engineering teams that have been sent out to examine cars that owners claim sped up on their own. Those teams will now check out other problems raised by owners, although Toyota declined to say what the issues are.
It also has begun installing brake override systems on all cars and trucks built this year and will install so-called black boxes in all its automobiles starting with the 2011 model year.
Brake override technology automatically cuts the throttle when the brake and gas pedals are pressed at the same time. Black boxes, officially called Event Data Recorders, track what’s going on in a car in the moments before and after a crash. They are often used by investigators to piece together the cause of an accident. Toyota is adding these safety features as Congress considers legislation requiring them in cars.
Toyota said it had repaired 3.7 million of the 5.6 million cars and trucks recalled for sticky gas pedals and floor mats that can trap accelerators. Those problems have been implicated in unintended acceleration incidents in Toyotas.
The company also said it has fixed 86 percent of the 148,000 Prius and Lexus hybrids recalled due to a problem with the antilock brakes.
Toyota said it was receiving about 800 phone calls a week in April about unintended acceleration complaints, but its consumer hot line now receives about 150 phone calls per week. Toyota officials said they did not find any link to electronic problems - a possible culprit raised by lawyers and safety advocates - after reviewing 4,200 vehicles in which owners alleged problems with unwanted acceleration.
Still, the company’s sales in the US have suffered this year in the wake of its crisis. Sales are up just 1 percent through September, according to Autodata Corp., compared with an industrywide sales increase of 10%. It has lost more than a percentage point of market share.
“I have a direct line to Akio Toyoda on safety issues and I believe we demonstrated in recent months that we have the authority to act quickly to address any safety issues that emerge,” said Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s chief quality officer for North America.
Toyota officials said they had not received an update from the Obama administration on the progress of the investigation run by engineers at Nasa and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The government has said it expects to complete its review this fall.